Order My Steps

I’m encouraged by the absolute sovereignty of God: He invites me to command Him to make me understand His way (Ps 119:27), to make me to go in the path of His commandments (Ps 119:35), to order my steps in His Word, and to not let any iniquity have dominion over me! (Ps 119:133) He’s inviting me to acknowledge His absolute control over me and everything in my life, and to fully engage with Him as He causes goodness in me. (Ps 23:3)

If He commands me to pray like this, He’s evidently able to answer me … and intends to do so. The implication is that my will is not free to choose good all on its own (Ro 3:10); I need Him (Jn 15:5), and He’s making it happen. (1Th 3:12)

He invites me to command Him to give me understanding (Ps 119:34), to incline my heart unto His testimonies and not to covetousness (Ps 119:36), to keep me back from presumptuous sins (Ps 19:13), to remove from me the way of lying and grant me His law graciously (Ps 119:29), to let my heart be sound in His statutes so that I won’t be ashamed (Ps 119:80), to turn away my eyes from beholding vanity, and to quicken me in His way(Ps 119:37)

He also invites me to command Him to cause others who are likeminded to seek me out as companions (Ps 119:79), and to deliver me from oppression (Ps 119:134), especially from the proud. (Ps 119:122)

He can answer all these prayers because He works in me both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Php 2:13), and because He’s in absolute control of everything all the time. (Eph 1:11) All my steps are ordered by Him (Ps 37:23); it’s true for everyone. (Pr 16:9)

These prayers are all then, in themselves, precious promises that give me hope, and enable me to partake of the divine nature. (2Pe 1:4) His sovereignty isn’t an excuse for passivity, but a promise that my choices are grounded in His working in me, and an encouragement to pursue Him with an expectation that I will find yet more and more of Him (Mt 7:7-8), that He will reveal Himself to me (Php 3:10) and conform me to the image of His Son. (Ro 8:29)

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Even Weeping

My wife says I cry easy; my kids see it too. But most of the time my eyes are dry when they shouldn’t be. There’s plenty to weep about, yet I don’t.

I should be weeping over sin, over my own sin (Ja 4:8), and over the sins of others. (Ps 119:136)

It’s so easy for me to compromise and accept sin; it’s also easy to look down my nose at sinners, despising and condemning them. But to grieve (Ps 119:158) … well, that’s real, genuine, connected … that’s love.

Paul wept over worldliness in the churches (Php 3:18) and was continually mourning over his lost countrymen (Ro 9:2-3); Samuel wept for a rebellious friend (1Sa 15:11); David wept over a traitorous child (2Sa 18:33); Jeremiah wept over Israel’s pride (Je 13:17); and Yeshua wept for Jerusalem. (Lk 19:41-42)

I think dry eyes reveal a small, hard heart.

I need prayer to care more, to increase and abound in love yet more and more, in knowledge and in all judgment (Php 1:9); please lift me up, if you will.

YHWH, please enlarge my heart (Ps 119:32)quicken me according to Your Word. (Ps 119:154)

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At Thy Word

Simon Peter has fished all night and come up empty; not a single fish. As he washes the crud out of his nets on the beach, Yeshua climbs up into his boat and asks him to launch it so He can preach from the water. Peter obliges, and afterwards Yeshua tells him to go fishing one more time. Peter has no interest or hope, but obeys for only one reason: Yeshua tells him to. (Lk 5:5) Peter has a submitted, obedient heart, and it turns out quite well.

What am I doing in my life for this sole reason? God says so. Not because of religious tradition, or because my culture, friends or family expect it, not because it’s convenient or makes me feel better … but just because God says so.

I wear tzit tzit only because He says to (De 22:12); I wouldn’t otherwise.

I treat Saturday special only because He says to (Ex 20:8); my culture sets Sunday apart; resting when others do is more convenient.

I don’t eat ham, catfish or shrimp only because He forbids it (Le 11:7); I like the taste (or used to) and don’t think it’s necessarily bad for me, if it’s prepared correctly.

But most of what I do, I think I’d do anyway, whether He said to or not; I can see that most of His commands are good for me, even if they weren’t commanded, so it’s hard to see my motive much of the time.

Perhaps it’s when I’m tempted to disobey Him that I see my heart more clearly. What am I valuing? Is it the pleasure of Man, myself or others, or am I seeking the pleasure of God?

I think the mark of God’s children is that they do what He says … because He says so. (1Jn 3:10)

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Aleph Beth Gimel

Psalm 119 is unique among the chapters of the Bible: it’s a song, with a stanza for every letter of the Hebrew alphabet, 22 in all, 8 verses per stanza. That’s 176 verses … the longest chapter in the Bible … it’s like the ABC’s of faith.

The stanzas are each titled with a unique Hebrew letter, arranged in alphabetical order, and each verse in each stanza begins with the Hebrew letter in its title: this psalm is a large acrostic poem.

Many stanzas appear to have a theme, captured in the first and fifth verses, followed by related expressions of opposition, affliction or conflict, and the last verse of many stanzas appears to introduce the next one.

Each verse forms a complete, self-contained thought; in English each one is a complete sentence. Except for the first 3 introductory verses, most of the remaining 173 verses are simple prayers: addressing God, talking with Him and engaging Him. There are pleas for help and encouragement, protection and quickening, appeals for justice and mercy, many declarations of God’s nature and character, proofs of His absolute sovereignty, and passionate, personal expressions of what the author is thinking, feeling, valuing and doing as a manner of life as he walks with God.

All of these unique properties suggest that the content of Psalm 119 is extremely significant and valuable, and that God explicitly designed it the way He did to encourage and help us in memorizing it and meditating on it. We can think of Psalm 119 as the ABC’s of spiritual life, God’s primer for knowing and walking with Him, containing the substance and foundation of our faith.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that all but 5 of these 176 verses (84, 90, 121, 122, 132) refer directly to God’s Word: His Law, precepts, commandments, judgments, testimonies, statutes … His Way. From a variety of angles and perspectives, this Psalm expresses a right relationship with God in the context of His laws, how our hearts are to be inclined in various circumstances; it evidently contains the definition of a godly disposition, how we should be feeling and responding to God and His Word, and in particular to Torah. It actually appears to define our spiritual life in these terms: the way we treat Torah defines how we feel about God.

As God tells us all to sing Psalms (Ja 5:13), reciting them to ourselves (Ep 5:19), hiding them in our heart, meditating on them and reminding each other of them (Col 3:16), evidently He’d like for us to be meditating on this one in particular; it appears to be at or near the top of His chart.

We can be reasonably sure that Jesus Christ memorized this particular Psalm and meditated on it regularly, praying it continually throughout His life. And we can be sure that He did so perfectly, applying it consistently, feeling and thinking what it expresses as if He wrote it Himself. We’re to follow His steps (1Pe 2:21), beholding Him here as He is, and being transformed into His likeness. (2Co 3:18)

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Holy and Unholy

I travel a lot for work: Poland, Mexico, China, South Africa, Germany, Singapore, India … all over the world. Everywhere I go I’m careful what I eat; pork and shellfish are standard fare most places, and often comprise the bulk of the menu. I seldom order salad without specifying “no bacon,” and when language is an issue it’s extra challenging. There’s a constant striving, an alertness required to eat according to God’s pattern, but as I delight in God’s Law (Ro 7:22) I see an important spiritual lesson in it.

Trevor Rees: Long clawed squat lobster

In calling us to put away all uncleanness, God gave us laws describing unclean animals to train us in the habit of discerning what we take in, both physically and spiritually. (Lev 20:25) He is concerned about our health and knows we live in a polluted, broken world. He wants us to test everything that’s presented to us as food, for both body and soul, and to our best to ensure it passes the litmus test of His Word. (Is 8:20)

What this seems to mean is that we are to be constantly evaluating any and all spiritual teaching that is offered to us, checking the Scripture to see if it is so. (Ac 17:11) When verses are taken out of context or faulty reasoning is applied, we’re to recognize it, call it out and reject it. (Ps 119:104) Failing to do so permits lies into our lives which defile and weaken our souls and spirits, giving the enemy access (2Ti 2:25-26) to steal, kill and destroy. (Jn 10:10)

Additionally, we should be comparing all of our own thoughts and motives with God’s Word (Ps 119:113), identifying as unclean anything within us that’s contrary to His Way. (Ps 19:14) This seems consistent with God’s call to gird up the loins of our mind (1Pe 1:13), to be circumspect, sober and vigilant (1Pe 5:8) in following after holiness(He 12:14)

We’re each accountable to God for what we believe and do (Ro 14:11-12), for every idle word we speak (Mt 12:36); we each bear our own burden before Him. (Ga 6:4) No one else can watch our spiritual diet for us; let’s enjoy and leverage God’s training plan so that we can differentiate between holy and unholy, and between unclean clean. (Le 10:10)

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Quicken Me

Life is a mysterious force, the difference between a person and a carcass; God breathes into our nostrils the breath of life … and we come to life, living souls. (Ge 2:7) He takes away our breath and we die, and our bodies return to dust (Ps 104:29), waiting to be quickened again by His Spirit at the Resurrection. (Ro 8:11) YHWH is Life, its ultimate source and substance. (Jn 1:4)

The word quicken means to give or restore life to. It appears 9 times in Psalm 119 as a recurring prayer … “quicken me:” (25, 37, 40, 88, 107, 149, 154, 156, 159) — bring me to life, more life, breathe into me again, more, restore and strengthen in me this force that moves me, energizes me, awakens me, and connects me with You and with others. (Jn 17:3) Each time this prayer is related in some way to His Word, His Law. (Jn 6:63)

Praying for God to give us spiritual life seems to be an acknowledgement that He must cause us to understand spiritual things (Ps 119:27), that we’re helpless to do anything good on our own (Ro 7:18), that we need His help continually not only to know what is right (Ps 119:34), and to do the right things in the right way with the right motive (Jn 15:5), but also to even want this. (Ps 19:13) God must give us both the motivation (Ps 119:36) and the ability to follow Him. (Ps 119:35)

There’s no room for Free Will here: our will is enslaved until and to the degree that God sets us free. This transformation is an ongoing process wherein we’re continually dependent on Him; it’s a basic principle woven throughout the Word in countless places, particularly in Psalm 119 (Ps 119:133), a Psalm evidently providing a foundation for spiritual life; it contains the ABCs of faith. Until we get this, we aren’t yet grasping the very first principles (He  5:12), largely missing the nature of God and Man.

We’re all still-born spiritually, in death, apart from God, but believers have been quickened (Ep 2:5), raised from the dead in Christ’s resurrection, awakened and energized by the Spirit to walk with Him. It’s by grace — God giving us a new heart (Eze 36:26), writing His Law into our minds and hearts (He 8:10), transforming us by the renewing of our minds (Ro 12:2), working in us to will and to do of His good pleasure. (Php 2:13)

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Feed the Flock

God exhorts the older men of a church to “feed the flock,” not as lords over others, but leading by example. (1Pe 5:1-3)

A shepherd doesn’t generally spoon-feed the sheep, pushing grass into their mouths, but leads them to pastures where they can graze safely. (Ps 23:2) Healthy sheep instinctively feed themselves. (Col 3:16)

A shepherd’s value lies in his ability to find suitable pasture, and in his willingness to protect his flock; a faithful man will put his life on the line. (Jn 10:11)

But what if sheep refuse to feed themselves, wanting to be spoon-fed? Or worse, don’t know how to feed themselves? And what if shepherds think it’s their calling to spoon-feed their sheep, rather than teaching them how to graze? Now, that would be pretty messed up, wouldn’t it? We’d have a lot of anemic sheep, and a lot of worn-out pastors … wouldn’t we?

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Endure Unto the End

I’ve spent the last few days in Warsaw, Poland. The more I visit this land the more I admire the Polish people: industrious, innovative, upright, hard-working, law abiding and tolerant — promoting religious freedom and the rule of law since the 15th century, and harboring the world’s largest and most significant Jewish community for centuries. As WWII began, about 3 million Jews, one-fifth of all the world’s Jews, resided in Poland.

Warsaw Ghetto Monument, Warsaw, Poland

During WWII, the Nazis forced Polish Jews into dense city ghettos under unspeakable conditions, before deporting them for “resettlement.” The largest of these ghettos was in Warsaw, where about 400,000 Jews were packed into 1.25 sq mi. When the Jews found out that “resettlement” was to a death camp, they decided to die fighting. As they tried to defend themselves, the Nazis attacked and torched the ghetto, burning many men, women and children alive. It was a horrendous time.

In all, the Nazis exterminated 3 million Polish Jews; the Warsaw Ghetto Monument reminds us of their suffering. As I beheld it, just after touring the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, built on the very site of the Warsaw Ghetto, and seeing the graphic depictions of all this horror, I was trying to imagine what it would have been like to live through it. I just can’t; I don’t pretend to even begin to understand it.

But according to scripture, even more difficult times are yet to come: “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Mt 24:12-13) What will that be like? What does it mean to endure to the end in a time like this?

I’m thinking that it’s only by God’s grace that any soul survives wartime atrocity with a clean conscience; enduring doesn’t secure salvation — salvation secures enduring. (Jud 1:24) When push comes to shove, most will save their own skin and let the world go to hell, but God’s regenerating, sanctifying (Tit 3:5) work produces holiness in His elect regardless of the times. (Ro 6:22) We’ll be loving Him and others from the heart because He lives in us, willing and doing according to His good pleasure. (Php 2:13) This isn’t presumption (Ps 19:13), it’s hope, grounded in the nature and promises of God.

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All Uncleanness

God tells us to avoid all uncleanness as a manner of life. (Ep 5:3) Abiding in uncleanness is a work of our old man, the flesh (Ga 5:19-21), so we’re to put it to death. (Col 3:5-6) He calls us to holiness (1Th 4:7) in our entire being: spirit, soul and body. (1Th 5:23)

God’s definition of holiness exists only in Torah, Mosaic Law, where He defines what’s unclean, what defiles us, and how to purify ourselves and separate ourselves unto Him. (Le 11:44)

Becoming unclean is simply part of living in this world; even doing God’s will can make us unclean. (Le 12:2) The focus is on how we respond to our uncleanness. Do we pursue abominable things (Le 11:10), heedless of our filth (Pr 30:12), enjoying uncleanness (2Pe 2:10) and neglecting the purification process God has prescribed? (Is 1:16) Or do we obey Him and continually pursue fellowship with Him, cleansing ourselves of all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God? (2Co 7:1)

We can try to spiritualize this away to mean whatever we like, but if our new man delights in God’s Law (Ro 7:22) we’ll look for ways to obey Him as well as we can. In ignoring God’s prescription for physical cleansing, why would we pretend to be aligned with His design for spiritual purity? Those who aren’t acknowledging all their filth, cleaning themselves up wholistically, purifying themselves and separating themselves to God as a manner of life, have no part in God’s kingdom. (Ep 5:5)

YHWH gave us laws on personal hygiene to keep us healthy, free of disease and infection, to teach us how to respect ourselves and others, and to give us insight into spiritual warfare. He calls us to live in purity, both in the flesh and in the spirit (1Co 6:20), pursuing holiness and faithfully cleansing ourselves of defilement and contamination because we belong to Him. (1Pe 1:14-16)

The physical dimension of uncleanness is tangible, and God’s prescription for it was written long before the sciences confirmed it’s value. Walking out physical holiness helps us understand the spiritual, to see how it works and ensure that we’re being cleansed of our sin (1Jn 1:7); both dimensions are essential in our walk with God.

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Hunger and Thirst

Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness are blessed, for they shall be filled. (Mt 5:6)

Shall indicates inevitability, certainty. Longing for holiness precedes holiness; it’s God transforming us, preparing us to see Him. (He 12:14)

Oh! To be entirely free of pride, self-righteousness, conceit, disdain, deceit, malice, posturing, lust, fear, compromise, uncleanness, anxiety, worry!

Oh! To be pure! Rejoicing in God, clothed with humility, loving Jesus Christ and His Word, to the paling of all worldly interest! To love my neighbor as myself, honoring all, in deed and in truth!

Oh! to feel the ache, the sorrow, the dismay at the remnants of the old man, this body of death lurking within. To be giving him no place, no quarter, no sympathy, sheltering no lie (Ps 119:29), harboring no falsehood. (Ps 119:104)

To cry out with my whole heart for this, to be heard, and to be healed! (Ps 119:145)

To be playing with the trinkets of this world, pursuing, continually occupied with, consumed in the temporal, is to be God’s enemy. (Php 3:18-19)

Longing for righteousness. Relentless craving, undying pursuit, unwilling to take No for an answer. I must have holiness, perfection, knowledge and understanding.

When I cry after knowledge, lift up my voice for understanding, seeking her out as my treasure, my delight, then shall I understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. (Pr 2:3-5) He will pour water on my thirsty soul, and floods upon the dry ground. (Is 44:3)

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